Mary came to the throne under the most popular demonstrations of enthusiasm that had ever existed for an English monarch. On July 19, 1553 the Lord Mayor of London proclaimed Mary as Queen. The crowds were so thick in the street that he had trouble making his way thorough. It seemed all of London was out of doors cheering. All the church bells started ringing and the fountains in the streets ran with wine. Dancing and singing went on into the night when bonfires were lit. An Italian visitor wrote that the whole city shone with lights.
The threat of Mary's right to the throne being usurped had come dangerously close to succeeding. She had even been advised by her cousin the Emperor Charles to give up her fight and hope that Northumberland would be merciful. Mary did not heed this weak advice. On receiving the summons to visit her sick brother she was intercepted and warned that it was a plot and her brother was dead. She retreated to Kenninghall and wrote to the Council commanding them to proclaim her right and title in her city of London. Quickly common people as well as nobles fled to her side and an armed camp was set up at Framlingham castle. A succession of towns declared themselves to her and sent arms and men. After desertions in Northumberland's forces London was hers. Back in Framlingham Mary's first act was to order the crucifix to be set up in the parish church. To Mary there was no question that this victory against all odds was a miracle. In Mary's mind God had opened the way for her to bring back the people to the only true religion. The people had all backed her as the true and rightful heir and Mary had fought for this right against those who had tried to alter the succession. Ironically in fighting for her succession rights she was also preserving Elizabeth's right to the throne as well.
At the beginning of her reign Mary acted slowly on the subject of religion and appeared able to compromise. She allowed her brother Edward to be buried in Westminster Abbey with the Protestant service while she attended a private mass in his memory. Mary's coronation was on October 1, 1553 and her first Parliament met on October 5. The first act was to repeal the divorce of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon declaring the marriage lawful. She had tried to act kindly to Elizabeth at the start of the reign but having her around made Mary distrust her more and Elizabeth was allowed to leave court. When Mary decided to marry her cousin Philip of Spain, the son of the Emperor Charles V, the country began to worry. They did not trust foreigners and there was a rise of panic and prejudice. Rumors started that there were uprisings against the Spanish match. The county of Kent demonstrated that the rumors were true. Sir Thomas Wyatt, the son of the poet, had taken the town of Rochester by force and the crews of royal ships had gone over to him. Londoners went over to him and even a number of the guard. They all believed that the Spaniards would turn them into slaves and take their land and goods.
With such support Wyatt was persuaded to march on to London. He camped out around Blackheath and Greenwich on January 30, 1554. He demanded to have custody of the Tower with the Queen in it and the removal of her counselors that he would replace with his own. The loyalty of the city seemed to be in doubt and it was Mary herself who saved the day. Like all Tudors, she acted her best in a crisis. Instead of seeking her own safety she made a public speech at the Guildhall in which she stated that "a number of Kentishmen have assembled themselves against us and you. Now loving subjects, what I am ye right well know. I am your Queen, to whom at my coronation, where I was wedded to the realm... you promised your allegiance and obedience unto me. And that I am the right and true inheritor of the crown of this realm of England, I take all Christendom to witness. My father, as ye all know, possessed the same regal state, which now rightly is descended unto me. I cannot tell how naturally the mother loveth the child, for I was never the mother of any, but certainly if prince and governor may as naturally and earnestly love her subjects, as the mother doth love the child, then assure yourselves that I, being your lady and mistress, do as earnestly and tenderly love and favor you. And now, good subjects, pluck up your hearts, and like true men, stand fast against the rebels, both our enemies and yours, and fear them not, for I assure you I fear them nothing at all!" The populace and the counselors were dazzled. Wyatt found that the bridges were now heavily defended and by February 7 after some skirmishes Wyatt was asked to surrender. He did.
Mary had from the start intended to restore the papal supremacy over the Church of England. She began secret negotiations with the Pope soon after becoming Queen. The Pope appointed the Englishman, Cardinal Reginald Pole, to be his legate in England. Pole was a grandson of Edward IV's brother the Duke of Clarence and a distant cousin of Mary. His mother, the Countess of Salisbury, had been Mary's godmother and governess and had been executed by King Henry VIII in 1541. Reginald had fled from England and began his career in Rome. Pole advised Mary to move quickly in returning England to Rome but Mary argued that this would take time. There were political problems and she suggested that it would be easier to persuade the Parliament and the people to accept papal supremacy if the Pope would agree to leave the confiscated monastic lands in the hands of the present owners. At first Pole did not agree but after a year the Pope agreed. In 1555 Mary was able to return to the Franciscan and Dominican monks the monasteries still in the possession of the crown that had not been given to private individuals. Pole arrived in England in November of 1554. By Christmas Parliament had passed 'An Act for the Renewing of The Three Statues made for the Punishment of Heresies', which reinstated the Act for the Burning of Heretics of 1401. The burnings began in February, 1555.
The fear that overcame Mary after the Wyatt rebellion led to the burning of the Protestants. Up until that time she had appeared lenient and fair but her attitude changed completely when she sensed that she could never feel completely safe until all heretics were shown the outcome of disobedience. The majority of the populace had changed religion under the assumption that it was their duty to do as their sovereign told them. But they had great respect for those who were willing to be martyrs and did not see them on the road to Hell as Mary did, but on the road to Heaven. They lined the roads as the condemned made their way to the stake and asked their blessing. Instead of showing the people the error of heresy it turned them into supporters of the heretics and many began to speak out against the burnings. Those who showed sympathy to the heretics were also to be arrested. New Protestant leaders began to put their own ideas about the rights of sovereigns in their pamphlets and forwarded the concept that if a ruler was wicked it was the duty of the people to resist.
Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, John Philpot, Archdeacon of Westminster, John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester and John Rogers, a married priest, were all burnt at the stake by Mary's order. Although the martyrs came from all social classes none were from the nobility. New victims were condemned every day. Most of these were ordinary villagers and not preachers or intellectuals. These simple people had been confused by years of religions swinging back and forth. The sight of these people going bravely to the stake was very powerful. To the onlookers they seemed to defy the flames and welcome them. The former Protestant Archbishop Cranmer was burned in November of 1555 dramatically thrusting his right hand into the fire as a symbol of his dismissing the recantation he had written Queen Mary.
There was widespread anger at these burnings. Not so much because they were the burning of Protestants, this had gone on through Henry VIII's reign, but because Mary had interfered with the right the condemned had to recant. The original purpose of heresy trials was to force the heretic to recant. Even when he was at the stake he was given one last chance to be given pardon if he would recant. Authorities realized that the recantation was not usually sincere but the display of a public submission satisfied them. Mary though, was not satisfied with these submissions and after a year repealed the right the condemned had to recant. This was very unpopular and added a horrible element to the burnings. Now there was no way, once condemned, to save their lives.
Many escaped abroad. At first Mary turned a blind eye to these refugees, she did not try to capture them nor prevented their friends from sending them money. She even allowed the Protestant Bishop of Exeter and translator of the Bible, to leave England for Denmark. But when the burnings began she sent agents to spy on the refugees and money was not allowed to be sent to them. From abroad the refugees wrote pamphlets to undermine Mary's authority. The most sensational was John Knox's "First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women" which was aimed at Mary as well as her Scottish counterparts, Mary of Guise and Mary Queen of Scots. Mary ordered that anyone found in possession of these books would be put to death without trial.
Mary began to see that these acts to uproot heresy were failing. Instead of bringing people back into the fold of the Catholic church the executions were creating resentment and rebellion. Instead of helping the church she was harming it and the knowledge of this caused her much grief. Her only joy now focused on her marriage and the hope of a Catholic heir.